IBM's Holey Optochip approach could well be the breakthrough that could transform how data is accessed, shared and used for a the coming era of communications, computing and entertainment.
Well now, that's just a tad faster than my Optus Cable running at a mere 100 Mb/s, and what's more it would fill up all six or seven of my hard disks in a matter of minutes, so where would I store downloads after that brief period? In real life, of course, little me would use up only the tiniest fraction of the chip's traffic, but it follows that new cheaper and more capacious storage technologies must continue to emerge in order to cope with the huge increases in data traffic that such optical chips will deliver.
The Holey Optochip has the ability to move information at blazing speeds - eight times faster than parallel optical components available today, IBM says. The breakthrough could transform how data is accessed, shared and used for a new era of communications, computing and entertainment.
At one terabit per second, IBM's latest advance in optical chip technology provides unprecedented amounts of bandwidth that will be needed before not too long to ship the vast loads of data generated by ever-burgeoning applications like social media, ultra-high resolution digital imaging, 3D streaming videos, a remote sensor on just about everything, large scale astronomy arrays, and robotics.
As IBM puts it it, the raw speed of one Optochip transceiver is equivalent to the bandwidth consumed by 100,000 users at today's typical 10 Mb/s high-speed internet access. In other terms, it would take just around an hour to transfer the entire U.S. Library of Congress web archive through the transceiver.
'Reaching the one trillion bit per second mark with the Holey Optochip marks IBM's latest milestone to develop chip-scale transceivers that can handle the volume of traffic in the era of big data,' said IBM Researcher Clint Schow, part of the team that built the prototype.
'We have been actively pursuing higher levels of integration, power efficiency and performance for all the optical components through packaging and circuit innovations. We aim to improve on the technology for commercialization in the next decade with the collaboration of manufacturing partners.'
As the micrograph below shows, scientists in IBM labs developed the Holey Optochip in a novel way, by fabricating 48 holes through a standard silicon CMOS chip.
The holes allow optical access through the back of the chip to 24 receiver and 24 transmitter channels to produce an ultra-compact, high-performing and power-efficient optical module capable of record setting data transfer rates.
The compactness and capacity of optical communication has become indispensable in the design of large data-handling systems, said IBM.
With that in mind, the Holey Optochip module is constructed with components that are commercially available today, providing the possibility to manufacture at economies of scale.
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Consistent with green computing initiatives, the Holey Optochip achieves record speed at a power efficiency (the amount of power required to transmit a bit of information) that is among the best ever reported. The transceiver consumes less than five watts; the power consumed by a 100W light bulb could power 20 transceivers.
By demonstrating unparalleled levels of performance, the Holey Optochip illustrates that high-speed, low-power interconnects are feasible in the near term and optical is the only transmission medium that can stay ahead of the accelerating global demand for broadband.
The future of computing will rely heavily on optical chip technology to facilitate the growth of big data and cloud computing and the drive for next-generation data center applications.
From an Australian perspective, it would seem that the architecture and optical technology being implementated for our National Broadband Network (NBN) fit in perfectly with emerging communication technologies like IBM's Holey Optochip.
If being involved in the IT industry for over forty years has shown me anything about technology developments, there's bound to be some as yet unconceived applications that will surface only after such huge communication bandwidth becomes widely available at the right cost. Of course, within a decade or so such new apps will chew up all of the speed and capacity gains, meaning that even more advanced devices will have to be be rushed into production (quantum computers, sub-atomic data storage, who knows what).
A final thought is that transmission and data storage error detection and recovery will need to be significantly improved too, so that the vast amounts of data lost during a break of even a few seconds will not be lost forever in the "great bit bucket in the sky."